Have you ever had someone “repair” a home appliance but it kept breaking?
I have been having trouble with my sink for a month. Yesterday, the maintenance man repaired it…again.
And it worked fine…once.
But then last night, I turned the water on low and walked away for just a few seconds. When I returned, I noticed water all over the floor. I was about to go to bed. But instead I had to clean up the mess.
Ugh, the sink keeps leaking. So, in a little while, I'll go ask the building supervisor to replace it.
I just used three conversational English forms in my sad sink story. All are common to American English and some are common to other Englishes. They involve the words “about” “keep” and “go.” On today’s program, I will talk about them.
Be about to + verb
And, I am about to begin.
English speakers use the form “be about to” to emphasize that an action will happen very soon. It is a friendly form we use in speech every day. For example, I told you I was about to go to bed. That means I was at the point of starting that action.
We can also use “be about to” for such subjects as things and ideas. We can say, for example, “It’s about to rain” and “The proposal is about to be released.”
The sentence structure is the verb be + about to + base verb. The base form of a verb is its shortest form with no -s ending.
Listen to a quick exchange between friends hurrying to an event:
Hey, Sue. Have you left the house yet?
No, but I was just about to put on my shoes.
Perfect, I’m about to hop on the metro. See you in a few!
Sue said, “I was just about to put on my shoes.” Note her use of the past tense “was.” We can use “be about to” with the present or past tense of the verb “be.”
Note also that the word “just” is common with this form. If people say they are just about to do something, it means they expect to do it right now.
The negative form of “be about to” has a completely different meaning, however. It means someone feels a strong desire or willpower to do something. For instance, “I’m not about to miss this show. I paid $70 for the ticket!” It's like saying, “I will go to the show and won’t let anyone or anything stop me.” The negative is not always considered friendly, so use it carefully!
Keep (on) + gerund
Now, let’s move to the verb “keep” plus a gerund, which is the -ing form of a verb.
When we use this form, it means that something is happening continuously or again and again. Earlier, you heard me say, “The sink keeps leaking.” The verb “keep” is followed by the gerund “leaking.”
We often use keep + gerund to show irritation that an action or situation has not stopped. We also sometimes use it with the preposition “on.”
Students keep playing with their mobile phones in class, for example. The cat keeps on scratching the chairs. And my teammate keeps hitting the ball too far!
Other times, we use it to give directions or tell someone how to do something. Listen to this person give a friend directions to her house and tell them what to do when they arrive:
Keep walking straight until you see a flower shop on the right. My house is the first building behind the shop. Dinner preparations are on the table. When you boil the noodles, please keep stirring them. Otherwise, they’ll stick together. Thanks!
You heard the speaker say, “Keep walking straight…” to tell them to continue walking. They also said, “Please keep stirring” the noodles to make sure the friend does this continuously.
Go / Come (and) + verb
And finally, we have the form go / come + verb.
In spoken English, we often add the verb “go” or “come” to other action verbs. When we do this, we are talking about an action in the future.
I said, for example, “So, tomorrow, I’ll go ask the building supervisor to replace it.” The structure is go / come + base verb. I used the base verb “ask.”
Use of “go” and “come” do not change the meaning of what we’re saying. Instead, they make our speech sound friendlier or more natural.
Listen to how our speaker uses the verbs “come” and “go” here:
Come visit me in July! You can stay for the long weekend. There is a huge film festival happening. So we can go see a lot of movies in a short time.
The speaker’s use of “come” in “Come visit me in July," for instance, sounds more natural in everyday speech than “Visit me in July!”
Another version of this form adds the word “and.” An example would be, “Come and visit me in July!” The “and” is common to British and other Englishes but only in some parts of the United States.
Well, that’s all for today. Go listen for these forms wherever you hear English being spoken. Then, come tell us what you find!
I’m about to sign off and go find the building supervisor. See you soon!
I’m Alice Bryant.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
appliance – n. a piece of equipment, often operated electrically, especially for use in the home
mess – n. a very dirty or untidy state or condition
conversational – adj. relating to or suggesting informal talk
emphasize – v. to give special attention to
hop on – v. to get onto something that is moving, such as a train or bus
negative – adj. expressing denial or refusal
ticket – n. a piece of paper that allows you to see a show, participate in an event or travel on a vehicle
irritation – n. the state of feeling annoyed, impatient or slightly angry
scratch – n. to make a line or mark in the surface of something cutting it with something rough or sharp
noodle – n. a thin strip of dough made from flour, water, and eggs and that is cooked in boiling liquid